During my sophomore year, a classmate and I developed the concept of a “Flash Conference,” a weekend long International Development/Appropriate Technology design challenge where students work alongside experts to develop new solutions to age-old problems. These experts, coming from non-profit organizations provide students with a concrete problem statement with adequate background information so that student teams can hit the ground running once they arrive at the conference. By providing an environment conducive to rich design and productivity, students who have just met each other are able to rapidly iterate (with feedback from the non-profit partner) through concepts to solve a critical problem. From a design standpoint, we realized that in the early stage of the design process, there is an opportunity to have many teams of students pursue different concepts to test feasibility.
After running the first conference (February 2007 on Sanitation and Composting Toilets in Guatemala and Haiti) which was organized in 3 weeks, I helped to organize two more such conferences (October 2007 on Pedal Powered Technologies in Guatemala and May 2009 on Home Heating in the Himalayas). Each conference had over 35 participants from the Boston region who worked closely alongside out non-profit partner organizations
Participants universally enjoyed the experience and found that it provided a good overview to the world of international development. Many participants came to the later conferences and several ended up taking time off from school to work in the field and considered careers in the field in part because of their experience at the conferences. Today, the term “Flash Conference” has become widely used within the Olin and Wellesley communities and the model has been adapted for other activities.